Being rejected: is it personal?

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When thinking about a topic for my next post I got a tad stumped; nothing particularly eventful has happened in the last two months as my pilot experiment is just plodding along. I tweeted words to this effect and later that week whilst demonstrating a colleague suggested I blog about the rejections accompanying a search for funding. They added a (what seemed to me) surprising comment: “it feels like a personal attack doesn’t it?”. My response was a quick and resounding “no, not really” (I mean, that’s just how things work right? Not everyone can get the funding). Nevertheless, it made me think: is it personal or should I at least feel as if it is? So that’s what this post is about, I hope it’ll open up some real feelings about the topic.

I applied for a rather generous studentship with my supervisor a few months back. I’ve been very excited about it as it would obviously make life a little bit easier removing the need to split myself between work and research (and friends and hobbies). The application went off into the digital ether just prior to my last post and since then it has been roaming around the back of my head. It came closer and closer to the deadline without any contact from the society which made me curious but I just figured that they may not contact the unsuccessful applicant (fair enough…kinda…). Eventually the actual interview date passed and that was it: I didn’t make interview therefore I just didn’t make the cut. It was at this point when a colleague asked about how personal it feels. I was happy to move on from this and look to the next opportunity (lack of funding isn’t going to stop me from doing my PhD) so didn’t take it much to heart. I did think though that some feedback would have been useful. What were the strengths and weaknesses of the project? How could I improve my input to the idea? In light of this my supervisor emailed to enquire. The response may have tipped my feelings towards the personal side: the application was lost, a digital error. So now I was left not rejected but not even considered!

Is this personal or just an honest mistake? Well after having gone through two outright rejections, a post-interview rejection, a denial of funding, and now a lost application I can see why those who have been doing this for long enough would feel that way. I mean if you spend a significant part of your time applying for funding to do the things you want which ironically detracts time from doing your work in the first place, why shouldn’t it feel personal? Your work is an extension of you and these rejections are people essentially saying “you and your work are not good enough” so they may as way say that you are not good enough. It’s understandable. However, funders are in a tight position as well. They want to fund as many people as possible but there are always more people wanting than there are funds. So how do you deal with that? You find a set of criteria to rank applicants and you fund the best by those standards; the ones you feel will do best and gain most from that funding. So in reality is it personal? It certainly can feel so and that is totally understandable but in reality with limited resources it’s just a case of balancing pros and cons and seeing what comes out on top (I won’t comment on whether the criteria themselves are the best. That can form hours of debate). Overall, I guess it’s ok to feel that things are personal but we must all remember that everyone is in the same boat and that we do what we can with what is available to us.

In other news my pilot experiment is over (in terms of collecting data, now comes the hours of processing and analysing the data) which means my time will be more flexible until my next long-term experiment which starts around early September. I’m currently working on three plans. Firstly I’m going over some data with my supervisor to learn how to better approach this efficiently. Secondly I’m drafting my first yearly presentation within the school. They’re called ‘psycholoquia’ (psych = psychology, quia from quium = meeting). I get to present for 10-20 minutes on my topic and current work followed by 5-10 minutes of questions. It should be good! Lastly I’m putting in place a plan for my first year report in terms of its content and structure as well as when I wish to submit. As a part-time student I have a later deadline than the full-time ones but I’ve decided to give myself an earlier deadline!

The next two months are going to be data analysis, report writing, maybe a conference, and generally having fun. As a part of a continued effort to get people together I’m organising bowling for the first year PhD students in my department! It’s very important to keep the areas of life you had before PhD as it isn’t everything. Work, play, and down time makes for a healthy and well-rounded person 

Thanks for reading

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